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“There is something in the dream. It came out of our hearts…”
Morian scratched his jaw as he repeated those words in confusion. He had never heard anything like that before. The old knight turned his head and looked at Veronica. “Your Royal Highness, this seems a bit like sorcery.”
“Do you mean an illusion spell?” Veronica frowned. “These soldiers seem to have suffered tremendous fear before they die, and the commander has signs of madness. It looks like an illusion spell, but I haven’t heard any of that has such a strong and the wide area of effect. Those stationed here are veterans who have received at least one year of willpower training, they have strong resistance to the illusion.”
Hao Ren listened but did not say anything. Concerning the mind illusion, he knew much more than Veronica and Morian did, and he had seen the most influential soul power in the universe and personally stood inside the psychic storm that could throw a whole city into madness. Many powerful and extraordinary minds in the world could pull these things off in, such as the whisper of the First Borns and the nightmare of the guardian giants. But he found it difficult to explain to the people here.
Moreover, he could not determine what the soldiers in the outpost were encountering because he did not see any signs of activity of the First Born’s tentacles, nor did he sense the breath of the guardian giant. A psychic storm might have happened here, but the culprit did not show itself.
After thinking for a while, Hao Ren asked, “Have you ever seen the psychic attacks of a monster of Chaos?”
“The existence of the Servants of Chaos itself could interfere with the human minds already,” Veronica said as she shook her head. “They don’t have to master the skills of psychic attacks. Oh, wait! Can it be said that the Chaos has bred new variant of monsters?”
The old knight was nervous hearing the princess’ speculation. Hao Ren’s simple question had ignited their imaginations. Morian immediately got to his feet. “We must return to the civilized world and alert them before it is too late.”
Veronica nodded. “We should use the Chastetree Road. There are still several outposts along that route. Maybe we can find something.”
Chastetree Road was a boulevard before the Shadowy Forest festered completely, initially a path that the elves in the forest use to communicate with humans, but as the forest was chaoticized, the Chaos swallowed this avenue. Poisonous plants and activated shrubs grew on the side of the road, and the softened and deformed soil made the road rough and difficult to travel on. For ordinary travelers, there had been no road in the forest.
But to the knights of the kingdom, Chastetree Road was still a passageway. The festered power had blocked it, but the crystal dust the elven kingdom embedded in the stone slabs of the road was still magically active. Chastetree Road was still a little safer than the forest in the surroundings where carnivorous bushes were everywhere.
The group quickly found a second outpost located deep in the forest.
They had expected the worst after what happened to the first outpost, but when they saw corpses strewn inside the second outpost, their hearts inevitably sank. The soldiers here had all died the same way, experiencing something horrifying before they died, their faces twisted, and their bodies mutilated and started to decompose. Other than that, there were no signs of a struggle.
The enemy did not attack them physically but mentally. The evidence was obvious.
The same had happened to the third outpost. But this time, Morian found a wizard near the small furnace in the center of the station.
The wizard had also killed himself in a frenzy, but before he died, he had set up a large number of defensive runes around him, and his magic book fragments were found scattered on the ground around the furnace. Sacrificing their magic guidebooks was the last card wizards played when their lives were threatened. The wizard here, just like the commander in the first outpost, had fought to the death with the illusion.
But the mysterious magic had failed to save the wizard. He sat in the middle of his defensive circle and ended his life himself. There was a burned hole in the chest near his heart, which was the result of him detonating the magic power in his body.
Judging from the death of the commander in the first station and the wizard in the third, Hao Ren had come up with a theory: though the two had had frenzy, there was an indication that they had experienced great horror like the other soldiers. It might be the effect of the furnace, which kept them to hang on longer than the other soldiers though it was not able to shield them from the mind attack completely.
And if the furnace could affect the invisible enemy, then the Chaos was naturally the culprit.
On their way to the fourth outpost, Veronica’s face was gloomy. The princess had been known as the Battlefield Rose of Taros for her pull-no-punches personality and temperament that was uncharacteristic of a princess. She punched an old tree on the trunk and said, “One hundred of the best veteran soldiers have died a horrifying death in the stations! We don’t even know what the enemy looks like!”
Veronica’s action jolted the old tree from its sleep. An angry and evil face appeared on the pitted trunk. The branches turned into a sharp object and pierced toward Veronica. “I will eat you!”
Veronica unsheathed her sword and drew it in an arc. The burning flame from the sword sliced the branches that thrust at her in half. “Shut the f*ck up. Keep sleeping!”
The old tree shivered and pulled back its branches. “Okay.”
Hao Ren was struck dumb.
Veronica seemed down from the exhaustion and stress. It was the only time when Hao Ren had a glimpse of the hot temperament of the knight princess.
“New enemies have emerged from the Chaos,” Morian said, raising his head and quietly glancing at Veronica. “Your Royal Highness, keep calm, we aim to make it out of the forest alive so that we can bring the truth to the general of the Western front.”
The road ahead seemed even more dispirited after discovering that the soldiers in the fourth outpost that also died, everyone was demoralized.
No one had said it, but the fact was already written on the wall: all the outposts the kingdom set up on the west side of the Shadowy Forest had probably fallen.
Chastetree Road was an avenue that traversed the west side of the jungle. It passed through every defense point in the forest. If all the outposts along this road were gone, then it would be highly likely that the other places had met the same fate. And the fact that the nearby stations had not sent anyone to check out the attacked outposts was worrying.
The furnace outposts in the Shadowy Forest would conduct a routine exchange of information every day so that when a station met a problem, other outposts would know. But judging from the state of decomposition of the bodies, Hao Ren found that it had been a few days since the attack on the first outpost, yet no one had come to investigate. There was only one possibility.
All the outposts were gone.
The foundation of the defensive system that the kingdom built for the last two centuries was uprooted overnight. Veronica did not say a word for the rest of the journey. The sad atmosphere was contagious as even the knights were silent. Hao Ren could not find anyone to talk to, so he resumed to focus on how to restore his mental connection with the MDT.
At long last, they arrived at the border of the Shadowy Forest.
The forest was less dense here, and the unpleasant depressing atmosphere seemed to have clear up by a lot. It was like they had suddenly crossed a certain threshold. After walking past two ancient towering trees that had entangled and grown together, Hao Ren suddenly felt a sense of relief.
He saw an undulating hill up ahead, and two majestic mountains in the distance. Between the mountains was a light beam pierced into the sky, and even tore the dark masses in the air apart, revealing the bright white sky.
Under the light column, Hao Ren vaguely saw a high wall piled up with stones. There seemed to be some towering fortresses and arrow towers behind the walls, and some structure built on the mountainside on both sides. These structures were all bathed in the Light of Order, the intensity of which was far more intense than those Hao Ren had seen before.
Standing on the edge of the dark forest and looking out at the light-coated mountains in the distance, it was as shocking as seeing the heavens from hell.
If Hao Ren were a local, he should know that it was because of this magnificent scenery that the two mountains in the distance were called the Heavenly Gate by the mountain people of the kingdom of Taros. But Hao Ren could still imagine the reaction people would have when they saw the bright world after traveling in the realm of Chaos for days—the knights around him were breaking out in joy.
“It’s the Western Fortress!” Veronica finally came out from her sorrow of the past few days when she saw the glorious radiance of the Light of Order. The beam was so powerful that ordinary people could break free form the blockade of the fog of Chaos by just looking at it. When Veronica saw the level of intensity of the Light of Order, she immediately knew that the Western Fortress had held up. “That’s great! Our fortress is still there!”
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